Because of the impasse over President Trump's proposed border wall, the American people face the very real prospect of a government shutdown starting just before Christmas. As a supporter of “the Wall” and of more rigorous enforcement of our nation's immigration laws, I encourage President Trump to stand fast and insist on funding for wall construction. If the Democrats stubbornly refuse, the president should shut down the government, and leave it shut down indefinitely, until Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer relent.
Why is a battle-royale over the border wall needed now? Because President Trump has already backed down in previous struggles over wall funding. He has been willing to kick the can down the road, and accept minor infusions of border security funding, in the political interests of Congressional Republicans, who blanch in terror at the thought that they might be blamed for any government shutdown.
The midterm elections are now over, however. The political “heat” on Republicans is relatively modest. Moreover, whomever is blamed for any potential shutdown in late 2018 will experience no political ill-effects in 2020 – the public's memory is much too short for that. Therefore, President Trump and conservative Republicans have a unique opportunity at this moment to take a stand. They have nothing to lose, and much to gain, especially in terms of satisfying their own base. Further delay in the battle over wall funding also risks prolonging the associated political angst into presidential election season in 2019-2020.
President Trump should also embrace the possibility of a government shutdown at this juncture because Democrats are in a dilemma. Although they won control of the House of Representatives in the recent midterms, they still have not chosen the next Speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi is carefully stage-managing her re-acquisition of that august position, but a battle over wall funding that produced a short, medium, or long-term government shutdown would plunge her campaign for Democratic support into chaos. Even if Pelosi were elected Speaker, her hold on the speakership would be severely weakened if the Democrats were embarrassingly defeated in a high-profile dispute over wall funding. This is precisely why even the threat of a shutdown is likely to motivate the Democrats to give ground. President Trump's demand for $5 billion to fund the border wall is reasonable, and if he appears serious about shutting down the government to get his way there is every possibility that Pelosi and Schumer will raise the white flag even before any actual shutdown occurs. President Trump should therefore talk up his willingness to shut down the government, and he should pooh-pooh the idea of compromise. In this case, as in so many others, granite resolve is the path to victory.
If, however, the Democrats decide to go to the mat and precipitate a government shutdown over the Wall, then there is every reason to believe that they and the media will blame President Trump for any inconveniences that the American people suffer as a result. It should be remembered, however, that essential government services and operations will continue, even during a shutdown – and arguably it is key Democratic constituencies, especially federal government employees, who will be most hurt by any shutdown. The longer a shutdown lasts, therefore, the greater will be the pressure on the Democrats to strike a deal. Time will be on President Trump's side, and his core supporters will remain at his side, so long as he struggles on to victory.
President Trump's position is strengthened by the fact that the Democrats' anti-wall arguments are increasingly untenable. Democrats' claims to support “border security” are incompatible with a blanket denunciation of all things wall-like, especially when President Obama reinforced the border at many points with additional fences and other barriers. As President Trump has pointed out, the success of the various Israeli barriers in reducing terrorist incursions also vindicates the concept of building walls to promote security. Even the Berlin Wall, while it was never popular, was an unqualified success in a practical sense: it dramatically reduced out-migration from East Germany.
What's more, Democrats' anti-wall arguments are being vividly undermined by rioting migrants, who are rushing the border in areas where they feel U.S. defenses are weak. These incursions, and attempted incursions, put Border Patrol agents, other law enforcement officers, and military servicemen and women at unnecessary risk, when a wall would much more effectively deter illegal crossings. To deny these truths is to deny the obvious, and Democrats cannot do so indefinitely. If they try, it will become increasingly clear that they are more interested in frustrating President Trump than they are in frustrating human traffickers, drug smugglers, and would-be terrorists.
Thus, for political and practical reasons, President Trump is likely to get his way and obtain funding for the construction of a border wall, if only he steels his nerves and decides to shut down the government for as long as is necessary to batter the Democrats into submission. In doing so, he will not only be enhancing U.S. border security, thus fulfilling his most important campaign pledge – he will also have proven definitively that Congress cannot ignore his views and priorities with impunity. For all that Democrats may loath about the president, they will understand from that point on that he is far from irrelevant, and that he must be handled with care.
For all these reasons, I encourage President Trump to respond to every question about the possibility of a government shutdown over wall funding with three simple words: bring it on!
Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com. He appears weekly on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480.